Local man starts new project to promote lifesaving conversations, after one saved his own life


In 2010, Save a Tear Project creator and founder Scott Hampel, had been in a car accident that took him through a dark period in his life. After a couple of crucial conversations, a new hope and vision for himself ignited, and one he eventually wanted to share with others.

Approximately seven years after his accident, things got worse. “It felt like my brain was being crushed, explained Hampel.”
He started seeking answers through several doctors and various tests. Different symptoms seem to point toward traumatic brain injury (TBI), in which he was eventually diagnosed with.

As time went on, other than for an occasional cup of coffee, and the responsibility of picking up his grand-kids, Hampel spent the majority of his time in pain and in bed. “There was a point when I was lying in bed and I said, hey if I don’t wake up, I’m good to go, said Hampel. “If I die in my sleep, then I’m good.”

After a while, Hampel realized, “Nobody should feel like that, but I did. I was in that much pain, that I said let’s go.”

Shortly after, Hampel’s sister who worked for a mental health provider, reached out to her brother about his well-being and told him about the semicolon project. The Semicolon project is an organization that addresses depression and suicide. As the Project Semicolon website states: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” His sister encouraged him to do something similar.

This conversation inspired him to reach out to others. “I figured hey, if there’s other people who feel as bad as me, if there’s something I can do to help them, this is it,” said Hampel. “When somebody commits suicide, how many tears are shed? All I’m trying to do is save a few tears.”

His Save a Tear Project was born.

Through his project, based out of Vancouver, WA, he would begin making and donating laser cut bamboo necklaces, dog tags, bracelets, and key chains. Each item has a semicolon image or a message of hope and reminder on one side, and a toll-free suicide prevention number listed on the other.


Business cards with names can get lost. Hampel’s items are something tangible people can have at all times. “You can hold it; draw whatever you need to get from it. It means that somebody cares about you because they got it to you. I care about you because I’ve made it with my own hands,” exclaimed Hampel.
“They ‘re touching it. They can look at it. It’s a reminder day after day that you’re important, that you’re loved, and people care about you. We’re here and you’re not alone.”

Hampel’s hope is that these items will help get people to start talking. “It’s all about having conversations. If you see someone sitting alone, or was bullied, you can reach out. Try to include people and let them know I’m here for you. “You can talk to me anytime,” expressed Hampel. “Student to student, mom to dad, counselors or teachers because sometimes, silence is the killer.”

Hampel gradually started his new project and then picked it up further with the help of his three grand-kids. They make the items right out of Hampel’s house. After designing an item, it’s sent to a laser cutter. Once returned, they finish assembling, sanding, clear coating, and tying all the bracelets.

“There’s a lot of work to it, but it’s all worth it. This really got me through a real dark time. This kind of helped me focus in on one thing to work on and would take the pain away for a little bit. This probably kept me alive,” stated Hampel.

Involving his grand-kids gives him an opportunity to keep open communication with them. They have conversations about how they are doing in school, if they are getting bullied or if anybody is bothering them. Hampel plans to continue that open relationship with them through high school and into their adult years.

He hopes to set an example when they are young, “so in their life they’ll go out and do good things, better things, and they’ll help people,” said Hampel. He reports his grandkids already have a sense of community and help everybody in the neighborhood.

Right now, since its only him and his grandkids, they make the items mostly for specific causes. Hampel says the hardest part is to try and raise money. His goal is to become a non-profit organization with corporate sponsorships so he can expand nationwide to every school, college, and university “with thousands of items always ready to go”.


A lot of the items he made in the past were paid out of his own pocket, but he has been able to sell items at expos and received smaller sponsorships and donations.

Currently he plans on donating items to the Fort Vancouver Highschool. A couple he recently met at a tabling sponsored 100 items for the school. Hampel worked with getting items to veteran groups. He donated 200 pieces to the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center and 100 pieces to Backpack for Life out of New Jersey, a veteran outreach program that fills backpacks with toiletries, supplies, and resources for supportive services. BFL clipped Hampel’s donated key-chains on to the backpacks. Hampel will also be working with a veteran motorcycle group this month.

Other groups he’s donated to are First Responders, the Girl Scouts, and the LGBTQ community.

Hampel has been operating the Save a Tear Project intermittently for about a year, but has “really been hitting it hard” in the last four months. Although he’s always donated and helped out various charities, Hampel states besides changing his diet and having work done on his neck, he attributes his new mission as a big part of his improved health. He also says, “In my opinion, one day I was sitting on my porch and asked God to take away the pain. A couple days later, I felt better. Maybe I went through all that agony to come out the other side to do something good for our community.”

It’s been the longest he felt good in 2 ½ years. He says he is thankful every day. He credits his family for their help and support in order to carry out his mission of promoting crucial life-saving conversations.

Hampel is also an artist. His paintings and recreations from reclaimed or recycled wood tables are what he calls post apocalyptic modern tables and paintings. Some of the profits from his artwork go toward his cause.

To learn more about the Save a Tear Project and his art work, you can follow his Save a Tear Project Facebook page.

For more related stories, go to Thuy Smith Journal

Poems-His Counseling, Uncle John

Credit- Amy Smith, Getty Images

His Counseling

As he searched for his


most everything he


was turned upside down

                       and Mutilated.

It was necessary

so he could


But the Pain



(C) John Steinmeyer

Uncle John

“Uncle John is that picture

really one of you?’

“yes said Uncle John.”

“I was once young too.”

“Uncle John you killed people?”

“Are you glad you had to do?”

“Uncle John?”

“Uncle John, we were winning.”

“We killed lots more of them.”

“Uncle John, in that picture,

is that guy still your friend?”

“Uncle John was it  a war?”

“We’re glad it had to end.”

“Uncle John.”

They sat beside their Uncle John

at midday for a meal.

Bratwurst, beans, and brownies

and fresh milk in the deal.

The questions of these innocent

help Uncle John to heal.

Uncle John.

Michael, Ralph, Gina, Paul, and Uncle John.

(C) John Steinmeyer 

John Steinmeyer served in Vietnam as an Infantry Sergeant with the 9th division in the Mekong Delta, then was transferred to the 25th Division and served the last half of his tour in a sniper team.

Thuy Smith’s father (Vietnam Veteran) and Vietnamese mother along with Thuy were friends of John and his family. Two poems from a collection that John wrote of his many experiences during his time in Vietnam. The collection is titled – The Rain. See other links below for more. Thuy Smith (TSOI) was given permission to share his poems on all of TSOI’s media platforms, etc.

More of John’s Poems

  1. Other Side
  2. Sniffer
  3. The Fish
  4. L.C, and L.C. 2 –Two gone, waiting for number three
  5. Sour (1) Sealed (2)
  6.  In The Grinder (1) The Teller (2) 
  7.  The Rifle (1) Turn (2)
  8. The Picture (1), Nothing (2)
  9. Not Me
  10. The Rain (1), There Are (2)
  11. More to come
  12. Our other posts on PTSD (Missing Video will return soon)

Vietnam- Bridging the Gap, The Vision (TSIO)

Vietnam Veteran’s Day for Wisconsin, March 29th of each year

IMG_0780Thuy Smith is no longer focused on or involved with Vietnam Veteran’s Day events and activities. She has been talking about transitioning her focus and activities for the last couple of years. At this time TSIO has not endorsed any group or event moving forward with Vietnam Veteran’s Day for Wisconsin. Please see ideas below that groups and individuals moving forward into the future can use if they choose. Thuy Smith is currently not on advisory boards nor will she be able to participate at this time.

There are many things that can be done to bring awareness to Vietnam Veterans Day all throughout the month of March leading up to the actual day itself. Here are some ideas for groups and individuals to use, add to, change, or to jump-start other ideas. History and past events (Click here)

1.  Vietnam Veteran’s Day (Main) Committee to oversee: Speaker’s Bureau, Main event (ceremony, banquets- can alternate from year to year), Various Outreaches to Veterans and community, etc. OR, different activities decided and divided among various Veteran organizations to implement. See more below.

2.  Annual Banquets: This is an event that we did for a few years and many Veterans and their families enjoyed it. It is a great time to gather for camaraderie, networking, and making new friendships. We always had a speaker with a specific focus. Entertainment such as one song was the best approach we found since veterans reported the camaraderie aspect was the part they enjoyed the best.

3.   Workshop: After the last couple of years of organizing an event that presented various displays that veterans created themselvesTSIO received reports that these activities and this type of event was the best ever. Many Veterans asked how they could get assistance in putting a display of their own together. This is where a workshop could come into play. Youth groups that have been involved in the past with TSIO events such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts would love an opportunity to get involved to put display boards or scrap books together. They are technically savy and creative. This would be another great opportunity to bridge the gap between the generations and create a mutual learning experience. Once these display boards and or scrap books are created, it is something the veteran can always have, add to, and use for potential speaking engagements, other presentations, and events. It is something they can leave with their families especially their children and grandchildren. A copy can be made and turned into the local historical society. Share your story, create your art.

4.  Speakers: TSIO always tried to get someone to speak that can touch on either their own personal experience or some focus that had a universal message or appeal. TSIO understood that every person’s experience, process, and perspective is different. TSIO also understood that although there are many differences, there are also many similarities and common ground. TSIO always promoted and emphasized this understanding in hopes of bridging the gap through all speakers, activities, and events. TSIO kept the politics and controversies of the war itself out of our mission. We didn’t want to portray an “us against them” message with others in the community. Nobody can make anyone respect or honor anyone. It is something that has to naturally take place. Our emphasis was more on young men who went off to war long ago, voluntarily or not, and to create a platform to educate others about their individual experiences and perspectives. We wanted to use speakers that would debunk the myth of the stereotypical militaristic war mongering soldier glorifying war. We also wanted to separate ourselves from the minority individuals (Veterans and those portraying to be Veterans) who unfortunately would help perpetuate this very stereotype to the community and among their fellow Veterans. Instead of highlighting the war, we wanted to highlight a majority of the Veterans’ intentions of going to Vietnam, which was to do good. Our goal was to highlight and emphasize what many Vietnam Veterans are currently doing for their communities and those who continue to do positive things in Vietnam today. We made sure to incorporate family members to share their experiences and perspectives or on behalf of their Veteran.

5.  Speakers Bureau: This could be set up with oversight through a board that is formed with representatives from various groups, organizations, and other individuals. A mission focus, policies, bylaws, non-voting membership rules and benefits, criteria, and terms can be set up for members of the oversight board as well as the speaker bureau itself. This will help encourage, empower, and promote diversity along with accountability and to prevent any one individual or group from dominating. The speakers from the bureau would be available to speak at Vietnam Veteran’s Day and other related events, civic groups and meetings, schools, the media, etc. Speeches can be done through various venues and platforms throughout the month of March to leading up to the actual day.

6.  Veteran of the Year: This award could be given at the banquet with a nice plaque and introduction highlighting contributions and a few brief minutes for him or her to speak (can’t forget about the women). This could be a way to include your city council president or mayor and the media with a brief write-up and picture of the veteran and Vietnam Veteran’s Day. TSIO tried to put a positive face to Vietnam Veterans by highlighting the contributions of the Vietnam Veteran to his or her local community rather than relating it to the war itself. Any contribution to the community could be recognized, not just contributions made to their fellow veteran.

7.  Scholarship: Create a writing competition (middle school age) with a theme related to Vietnam Veterans or the Vietnam War Era. For Ex: Agent Orange, PTSD, Coming Home, Medics and Nurses, Women in Vietnam, etc. A winner or winners are picked and earn scholarships such as $100, $500, etc. Again generating awareness and education around Vietnam Veterans and Vietnam Veteran’s Day by announcing the winner(s) in the newspaper with their picture and piece they wrote. It also gets the kids and schools involved.  

8Outreach to Veterans: The best way to get the word out is to simply do outreach, outreach, and more outreach to other Vietnam Veterans and their familiesThis is much of what Thuy Smith did to make connections with new Vietnam Veterans who were not yet aware of Vietnam Veteran’s Day, the event, and other activities involved. Thuy just didn’t invite people to attend something, she encouraged others to get involved and empowered them to believe that they had something of value to contribute as well. A poem, other reflection or writing, artwork, pictures, memorabilia, a story, insight from experience and lessons learned, a voice, etc. as much if not more as others who usually do the speaking. This is where the educational events with the individual displays come in quite nicely. This allowed for anyone and everyone (within appropriate guidelines) to contribute and have a voice.

9.   Outreach to businesses and Churches: to have businesses and churches help bring awareness to their employees and congregations by announcing it in their newsletters, church bulletins, and other publications, to announce it to their customers, to have their veterans acknowledged at the workplace or at church, have them briefly speak, etc.

Proclamations: Contact and work with your local CVSO to find out how you can support the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls City Council local proclamation that TSIO has started and implemented the last two years. If you are from another community, approach your local CVSO about implementing the same plan in your city that your CVSO’s office is based in. If your CVSO’s office is not based in your community, move forward with support of other Veterans and or Veteran organizations to propose the proclamation on your own. Many Veterans and their family members can be invited to attend and it can be another way to generate community and media acknowledgement and support.

Informational Cards: In 2010 one of our committee members proposed putting together a card which was the same size of a business card. On the front it said Vietnam Veteran’s Day, March 29 (bill passed in 2009), 1960-1975 (time frame of the Vietnam War Era), a map of Vietnam (major cities listed), service ribbons (across the bottom), National and Wisconsin statistics of active duty and those directly in Vietnam (on the back of the card). The front was done in an attractive red color for a nice keepsake. These are simple to make, easy to hand out, quick way to get the word out to fellow Veterans, their families, and others in the community.

12.  T-shirts and Pins: In 2010 we created pins and T-shirts that can be distributed or used to raise funds to support other activities. This is something people would wear to generate ongoing free advertising and awareness to the day. Create your own to wear or have an official group create one to bring awareness to either the day itself or an event related to it.

Thuy Smith and TSIO has been involved with Vietnam Veterans and their families for 18 years. TSIO’s focus is not and has never been just a Veteran or Vietnam era focus. Although Thuy will no longer be involved with Vietnam Veteran’s Day activities, she wanted to leave her final thoughts and ideas for others to use, add to, or change if they choose. All information can be found on our website at TSIO.ORG

Related Post: Healing My Vietnam

back shirt
Click Image for Website to learn more


Letter from Son of Vietnam Vet to Daughter of Vietnam Vet


Excerpt from letter: (Given permission to share)

Hi Thuy,

I stumbled onto your website. My dad fought in the Vietnam war as a teenager in the 70s, and I myself have been a missionary in Vietnam and China for the past 10 years, so I’m familiar with both sides of that war. I’ve been opposed to torture since first grade when I watched a classmate being tortured. But it seems useless trying to convince most people that torture is wrong because they will just argue with you for why it is justified. But I have seen the effectiveness of changing people’s views by letting them see/hear firsthand the perspective of the other side through their story of suffering. Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate you for what you are doing.

Oh, and BTW, I wanted to say sorry for the way you were treated during your childhood. I want to say that I wish I could have lived in your town so I could have stood up for you or been your friend, but I don’t know if that’s what I would have really done (but I would do it now at least), so all I can say is I’m sorry for how people treated you and that I didn’t stand up for you and that I will at least do it now.

Thank you David for sharing with me.  From a fellow child of a Vietnam Vet, that means a lot to me. Much of what you are referring to actually came from adults although some youth were taught this behavior too. Today it is many of the youth who are the ones educating other adults. It is not always wisdom comes from age, but rather out of the mouth of babes shall come forth wisdom. I appreciate your letter and your real honesty. Although I do experience it at times today, this was many years ago now that I initially experienced this. However, you still took the time to say this to me today. As you are proud of your father, he should be of you.

Sons and Daughters of Veterans, Advocates for Peace and Healing for all

A Veteran’s Dream is Visited by Former Enemy Asking to Return Home to Vietnam

nva helmetA  Native American Vietnam Era Veteran, Robert, who lost his brother in Vietnam, saw a piece I wrote and gave me a call. He wanted to know if I was able to meet and he would drive from about an hour away to meet me that same day. I said sure assuming that it was pertaining to an upcoming Vietnam Veteran’s Day event for Wisconsin that I was organizing.

We met at a coffee shop and come to find out it had nothing to do with our event, although he and Veterans from his tribe did attend the event as well. There was another Native American Vietnam Veteran named Ralph, also a former marine, who was close to Robert like a brother. Ralph had been in battle when an NVA soldier was killed. He brought back parts of the NVA Soldier’s helmet. He kept it all these years until one day he had a dream. In this dream this former NVA Soldier appeared to him and stated he wanted to get back home to Vietnam.

The Native Americans believe in a spirit world as do many of the Vietnamese. Both also believe in ancestral ceremonies and respect. The Native Americans also believe strongly in the power and meaning of dreams. This Native American Veteran believed the NVA Soldier’s spirit actually visited him in his dream and asked to be sent back to Vietnam.

I am only summarizing the details here, but before this tribe even met me, they were already planning this ceremony on behalf of this NVA Soldier not only as an act of respect, but to help release the man’s spirit back to Vietnam as he had wished. After Robert read the piece I wrote, he said he knew he was supposed to talk to me and I was to be a part of this.

There was no doubt that I needed to honor this request. This ceremony went on for a few weeks with different clans taking turns conducting the ceremony a week at a time. There was a feast and dancing all throughout the night and then different times of the day. There was also singing done in a prayerful manner. Their longs hours of dancing were an act of sacrifice and prayer in releasing the man’s spirit back home.

I was asked to help prepare Vietnamese food for the whole clan, but also so we can set some out for the spirit of the Vietnamese man. My husband was also a part of this and together we cooked the meal. I wore an Ao Dai (Vietnamese traditional dress) and burned incense and said a prayer on behalf of this NVA Soldier.

holding up incenseAfter several weeks of completing this ceremony, they feel the man’s spirit was released back home and the parts of the helmet were buried.

I participated in this ceremony out of  respect for this group’s act of humanity in trying to honor a former enemy, and to honor this NVA soldier and his family.

Pictures from Ho-Chunk Veteran Ceremony I spoke at

See similar story of another Vietnam Veteran, former Medic I delivered an item back to Vietnam for (part one) – Video will return soon.